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3 simple ways companies can leverage Maslow’s hierarchy to drive engagement!

The biggest risk to a company's growth perspective is its human potential. The phenomenon of "The Great Resignation" combined with the on-going difficulty to hire for critical roles all point to the importance of retaining our employees. Maslow's hierarchy of needs, describing the 5 fundamental needs that govern behavior, can be used as a guide to understand what really matters. Although published close to 80 years ago, the theory has proved itself as a resilient and relevant tool to explain the most common and recurring reasons people leave their companies today. If companies want to retain their employees, they need to measure the intangibles, monitor the growth opportunities to each employee, at scale.

Meaning matters just as much as the paycheck

The “Great Resignation” is still raging on. And while a competitive paycheck is important, it isn’t enough to stop people from leaving. According to the results of PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey which surveyed more than 52,000 workers in 44 countries and territories in March 2022, one in five employees said they were extremely or very likely to switch employers. Based on the research, the top 5 factors determining their likelihood to leave were whether:

  • They were fairly rewarded

  • Their job was fulfilling

  • They could be their true self at work

  • Their team cares for them and

  • They can be innovative / creative in their job

So the people have spoken: While the paycheck remains important, it is not enough to retain critical employees. They are on a quest for meaning in their work life.

Why Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is even more relevant today

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs depicts the 5 fundamental categories of human needs, and the factors driving the Great Resignation find their answers here. Initially published in the 1940s, and further refined in the ensuing years, the psychologist Abraham Maslow identified the most fundamental needs that drive our behaviors.

  • Physiological needs: This refers to the basic physical needs such as the need for a roof over our heads, food, water and rest.

  • Safety needs: This refers to having a safe environment, including not only physical safety, but psychological safety.

  • Belonging: This includes not only friendship and family, but a sense of connection to others

  • Esteem: This points to both the need to feel confident and good about ourselves, as well as the need to be recognized and valued by others.

  • Self-Actualization: This reflects our need to grow and achieve our full potential. For Maslow, a person is always 'becoming' and never remains static in these terms. This is linked to each person’s quest for their meaning in life, and differs by person.

While Maslow initially thought that people moved “unilaterally up” the levels, he later refined his theory by adding that people could fluctuate up and down the different levels depending on external circumstances or their life events.

Maslow’s hierarchy becomes even more relevant today because it reminds us of the fundamentals to get right, and helps focus actions on the deep causes people really care about. It re-emphasizes the importance of getting the intangibles (such as psychological safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization) right, just as much as the tangibles (a competitive paycheck, physical safety). Just as the latest PWC research indicated, the intangible needs are collectively just as or even more important than the tangibles. Companies need to ask themselves how they can best cater to these intangible needs.

How companies can leverage Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace

To succeed in retaining critical talent, and keeping employees engaged and thus productive, companies need to meet the fundamental needs of their employees’.

  • Physiological needs - Is the office location and set up providing employees with the right environment to be productive? Is the compensation at the right level?

  • Safety – For certain roles, physical safety will continue to be critical. For white collar workers, the concept of psychological safety becomes just as important. Do people feel “safe” to speak up without retribution? Do they feel that their voice is heard, and recognized? Is feedback embraced and encouraged?

  • Belonging – Is the company or the direct team they are working for providing them with the sense of community and belonging? Do people feel that their values and contributions align to those of the company?

  • Self-esteem – Do people feel respected? Do they feel accountability and ownership for their work? Do they have a sense of achievement?

  • Self-actualization – Do people feel that they are growing, and becoming the best version of themselves? Is personal development encouraged?

3 recommendations on how to leverage Maslow’s hierarchy to drive engagement and productivity

  • Get a baseline. This helps you better understand the employees’ sentiments around the critical engagement factors, including both tangibles and intangibles, as outlined in Maslow’s hierarchy.

  • Put in place a way to monitor this snapshot. People can move up and down the levels depending on life events. Monitor the movement through the employee life cycle. Drive a data-based discussion on what levers need to be accentuated, and the actions to be triggered, to help employees obtain the fulfillment and meaning in their work they seek. Monitor the intangibles as much as the tangibles.

  • Establish meaningful personal development plans. Find a way institutionalize meaningful and relevant personal development plans, that help employees achieve self-actualization. This should not be a “check in the box” exercise. This should be a thoughtful, and almost intimate discussion of helping the employee reach their full aspiration, based on their personal needs and goals.

Need help? elendi drives diagnostics for an innovative 2-tiered engagement model covering both long term and short term employee needs to ensure companies have the right data set to drive people decisions.


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